Lynn: Cut Defense, But Learn From Past Disasters

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5, 2011 — The Unit­ed States is “0 for 4” in man­ag­ing defense draw­downs, and can draw four lessons from those past fail­ures, Deputy Defense Sec­re­tary William J. Lynn III said today on his final full day in office.

Lynn, who will turn over the job to Ash­ton B. Carter tomor­row, offered advice on nation­al secu­ri­ty in times of bud­get aus­ter­i­ty in a keynote speech at the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress here. Secu­ri­ty begins with a strong econ­o­my, Lynn said, and the nation’s cur­rent deficit cri­sis demands action. Strong mea­sures and painful cuts are called for, and defense cuts must be part of a solu­tion, he acknowl­edged.

The cen­tral chal­lenge, Lynn said, is man­ag­ing a defense slow­down with­out endan­ger­ing nation­al secu­ri­ty.

“Our abil­i­ty to exert glob­al influ­ence will be threat­ened if we do not reduce the deficit,” Lynn said. “No great pow­er can project mil­i­tary force in a sus­tained man­ner with­out the under­pin­nings of a strong econ­o­my.”

While the econ­o­my is the well­spring of the nation’s mil­i­tary might, past efforts to strength­en the nation’s bud­get through defense cuts have result­ed in fias­co, he said.

Mil­i­tary draw­downs after World War II, Korea, Viet­nam, and dur­ing deficit-reduc­tion efforts in the 1980s all caused dis­pro­por­tion­ate loss of mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ty, Lynn said, cit­ing the first engage­ment of the Kore­an War: the 1950 Bat­tle of Osan, bet­ter known as “Task Force Smith.”

Less than five years after the defeat of the Axis pow­ers, Lynn recount­ed, “Teenagers fresh from basic train­ing, led by offi­cers who lacked com­bat expe­ri­ence, found them­selves fac­ing a numer­i­cal­ly supe­ri­or North Kore­an force. With only 120 rounds of ammu­ni­tion each, two days of C‑rations [and] six anti­tank shells, our forces were sim­ply unable to stop the North Kore­an advance.”

The result­ing deba­cle led to the deaths of many young Amer­i­cans, he added.

“Each time we reduced the defense bud­get, we cre­at­ed holes in our mil­i­tary capa­bil­i­ties that we had to buy back lat­er at great cost,” he not­ed. “When we were lucky, that cost was in dol­lars; when we were not lucky, that cost was in the lives of our troops.”

Lynn said he draws four lessons from pre­vi­ous large defense cuts:
— Make hard deci­sions ear­ly;
— Admit the need to elim­i­nate mis­sions and pro­grams;
— Keep reduc­tions bal­anced among force struc­ture, oper­at­ing accounts and invest­ment accounts; and
— Don’t cut too much too fast, espe­cial­ly in core mis­sion areas.

Post­pon­ing cuts to low­er-pri­or­i­ty pro­grams in hopes of high­er bud­gets lat­er is “reck­less and intem­per­ate behav­ior,” Lynn said, and would divert pre­cious resources from high­er-pri­or­i­ty needs.

“The net result is wast­ed spend­ing and less capa­bil­i­ty,” he said. “It is bet­ter to have a small­er, but more ready, force and few­er, but health­i­er, pro­grams.”

Accom­mo­dat­ing cur­rent bud­get reduc­tions, which Lynn iden­ti­fied as “north of $450 bil­lion over 10 years,” will force dif­fi­cult choic­es in force struc­ture, mod­ern­iza­tion and per­son­nel, he not­ed.

The deputy sec­re­tary said the Defense Depart­ment must reduce troop lev­els while retain­ing the abil­i­ty to con­fig­ure forces for emerg­ing threats, trim mod­ern­iza­tion pro­grams while pre­serv­ing key cyber­se­cu­ri­ty and long-range strike capa­bil­i­ties, reduce the civil­ian work­force while avoid­ing demor­al­iz­ing fur­loughs, and make sen­si­ble adjust­ments to mil­i­tary pay and ben­e­fits with­out break­ing faith with mil­i­tary mem­bers and their fam­i­lies.

Defense lead­ers act­ing judi­cious­ly can make those cuts with­out endan­ger­ing the nation’s secu­ri­ty, Lynn said.

Under the Bud­get Con­trol Act of 2011, the so-called con­gres­sion­al “super­com­mit­tee” — the Joint Select Com­mit­tee on Bud­get Reduc­tion — must by Nov. 23 rec­om­mend steps to reduce the deficit by $1.5 tril­lion over the next 10 years. If the com­mit­tee does­n’t make such a rec­om­men­da­tion, a sequester mech­a­nism built into the act will trig­ger $1.2 tril­lion in addi­tion­al spend­ing cuts. DOD would then face more than $1 tril­lion in cuts over 10 years, which would be “cat­a­stroph­ic,” the deputy sec­re­tary said.

“Seques­tra­tion would leave us with the small­est Army and Marine Corps in decades; the small­est Air Force in his­to­ry, and the small­est Navy since [William] McKin­ley was pres­i­dent,” he not­ed. McKinley’s admin­is­tra­tion ran from 1897 to 1901.

“The mind­less process of sequester would force us to make equal cuts to every pro­gram, regard­less of their impact or the pri­or­i­ty of that pro­gram,” he added.

Hav­ing served at the Pen­ta­gon as direc­tor of pro­gram analy­sis, comp­trol­ler and deputy sec­re­tary, Lynn said, he has learned one thing above all else: “Ser­i­al and dis­pro­por­tion­ate reduc­tions to dis­cre­tionary spend­ing have dis­as­trous results. You can­not plan a defense pro­gram and build a strat­e­gy around a mov­ing tar­get.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)